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With Regular Session Winding Down, House Approves Senate Changes To Budget

Wallis Watkins
Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria) and members of the Republican House delegation addressed members of the press following passage of the budget bill in the House Thursday.

The Louisiana Legislature has sent a state budget for next year to Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk. But, as of Wednesday, the Governor said he doesn’t support the bill with nearly $650 million in cuts. 

"I will take action, as necessary," explained Edwards, "to make sure that House Bill 1, as it's currently drafted, does not control our appropriations for next fiscal year."

The full House agreed to Senate changes to the budget — known as House Bill 1 — Thursday. It would fully fund the Department of Health, along with the state's safety-net hospitals and a Medicaid program that funds thousands of nursing home residents.

Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) says passing a budget provides a framework for the upcoming special session by highlighting the areas that still need funding.

"We have a general idea now — actually, a specific idea — of the areas that are short, specifically higher ed at $96 million, TOPS at $88 million," he said at a press conference Thursday following the passage of HB1. 

House Democratic leader Rep. Robert Johnson (D-Marksville) says the other issue made clear is the revenue problem facing the state.

"We have a real problem, but we will not solve a real problem with pretend budgets, with pretend solutions," he said on the House floor, urging members not to vote for the budget.

Lawmakers opposed to the budget argue there's no need to pass this bill now, since they can address the major cuts in the special session.

Henry says the budget gives lawmakers something to point to — to show constituents where more money is needed. But GOP lawmakers in the House still haven't determined exactly how much money they're willing to raise.

"I think, again," explained Henry, "it goes back to members going home and seeing what their priorities are — if they have the will and they think we need that dollar amount."

Gov. Edwards is calling on the Legislature to replace nearly $650 million of expiring taxes in a special session that starts Tuesday.